What Is a Subscription Website?

Subscription website business models have evolved exponentially in just a few years

Once upon a time, there were a few different versions of subscription websites that Mequoda defined. We wrote about them, analyzed them, and built them for our clients.

Over time, we watched new versions of subscription websites come into being. So we revised our naming conventions, revised our posts three or four times to keep up, and kept adding new subscription websites to our lexicon. But our thinking has continued to evolve, and now we only define three online business models as subscription websites.

Mequoda currently defines 10 online business model websites that we build and support for our clients. Out of these 10, there are 3 we consider to be truly subscription-based, defined by the fact that users are “pushed” content on a scheduled and regular basis via their subscription.

Subscription websites

There are 3 out of the 10 that we consider to be membership websites, defined by the fact that users access the content on-demand, when they have a question they need answered or a learning tool they need to access.

Membership websites

And finally, the remaining 4 website business models are what we call transaction websites, where the primary intent for the user is to buy a product or an event ticket, or to look something up in a directory.

Transaction websites

All 10 of these online business models are represented by our clients.

Getting back to the basics of subscription websites

Of course, the question posed at the top of this post is “What is a subscription website?” I’m going to answer that question and, in the process, also define the membership and transaction website model so you’ll understand the difference between them and the subscription site.

For us, a website is defined by the user’s intent.

At a subscription site, whether someone pays for the content or not, users subscribe in order to have content pushed (delivered) to them – by email, website, app or the U.S. mail – on a set schedule.

The magazine and newsletter are, of course, familiar subscription products from far back in the print era, and portals are Internet creations that share the same characteristic. Content is continually published and pushed to subscribers on a regular schedule.

For membership websites, users join to gain access to content on demand. That content is published at irregular intervals – for community sites, it’s whenever a member has something to say, and for library and classroom sites, it’s whenever the publisher has new information or a new course ready to publish.

Taking a mass media site, ConsumerReports.org, as an example, users join because they need to buy a new car want to look up and access reviews on the cars they are interested in at the moment, not because they want to get a continuous stream of information on cars every month.

Finally, at transaction websites, users arrive with a specific transaction in mind – buying (including giving the publisher contact information such as an email address) a product at a retail site, a ticket at an event site, information on car insurance companies at a lead generation site, or the names of local summer day camps at a directory site.

That’s where Mequoda is today with its definitions, names and categorization of subscription sites, along with their siblings, membership and transaction websites. All of these are supported by Mequoda and our Haven Nexus CXMS for our clients, who, of course, are all publishers. They’re all valid and quite profitable website business models for publishers. In fact, most of our clients operate more than one model – and of course, if you’re familiar with the Mequoda Method, you know we build portal websites for all our clients, regardless of their primary revenue streams.

We always welcome comments on our thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with our names, categorization and definitions? Do you have a website that meets these criteria, or a hybrid? Tell us in the comments!


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